This Is What Is Supposed To Happen

If you are trying to make yourself feel better, this CNN poll which has the race tied is probably your best bet.  From there, the polls get a little uglier, with McCain taking a small but statistically significant lead in the nationals.

As Oliver Willis points out though, this is not the end of the world; it’s just a bounce.

This is what is supposed to happen following a convention; you’re supposed to get a healthy little bounce, and the McCain campaign got theirs.  That’s not particularly newsworthy.  Now, had McCain NOT been able to pull up to Obama following the convention, that would have been a major story, and something for Team McCain to start fretting, but given that this is about as unexpected as the sunrise every morning; it’s neither cause for Team McCain to get over-confident, nor is it cause for Team Obama to start sweating bullets.

Nor is it worth really fretting over how long the bounce lasts.  Nate from FiveThirtyEight has an interesting thought up on how political time is not absolute, but instead relative; more of a measure of the time that lapses between specific moments as opposed to a steady constant that is unaltered by the events that occurs along its objective timeline.

We are now just coming off of the Republican convention.  For those who don’t understand convention bounces, it’s pretty simple; conventions are week long infomercials in prime time.  It’s advertizing at its most crystalized and pure.  For several nights a week, people tune in to a largely unchallenged sales pitch for one candidate or another.

Yes, there is the possibility of a major gaffe that could have a detrimental effect against the candidate, but for the most part, if you have an order of french fries waved in front of you for a week straight, you’re eventually going to want to try some; even if you really don’t like french fries all that much.  Further, if you liked french fries, but you have been trying to cut back because they’re making you fat, you’re probably going to cave.

What conventions do is virtually the same thing.  If you are sitting on the fence, you get a full frontal assault of advocacy for a candidate (or if you are watching the Republican convention, you are getting a full frontal assault of demonization of the opposing candidate).  You’re going to at least want to give that candidate a shot for a bit, and may tentatively start leaning in their direction.  Just as potential supporters who have not been overly enthused about a candidate will get energized and pumped up.

It can get a little more complicated than that, but for the most part that’s where the bounce comes from.  The Republicans benefit a little more from it this year because they got to go last; their bounce will not get interrupted by the Democratic convention which was held a week earlier.

As a result, according to Nate, this bounce will linger not for a specific number of days.  Sure, it may fade, but until something else major comes along, we remain in the post Republican convention era of the election season.

Whether this is a bounce or real movement in the electorate depends upon the polling following the next major political event in the election cycle.  Scheduled, this would be the first presidential debate, but the Obama campaign can alter the political timeline by coming out with another major headline before then.

Nate offers up an endorsement from Colin Powell as a possibility.

Would or should the Obama campaign do this?  It would alleviate tensions felt by some of the base who are likely to go into panic mode the first time Obama cedes the lead in polling, but I’m left to wonder why bother?

Being down in the polls isn’t always a bad thing.  Yes, being down five points on the eve of the election is not where you want to be, but when there are still two months out, being down in the polls can be beneficial, particularly now.

For one, with time left to go, suffering a slight polling deficit could encourage supporters to work harder due to a sense of urgency.  Riding too high in the polls can encourage complacency which results in less energized volunteer efforts.  Taking a close second, however, means people have a reason to work their butts off for first.

Also, suffering in the polls leading up to the first debate could lower expectations for Obama.  As anyone who has watched the Democratic debates in the primary season could attest, Obama is a gifted orator, but he has troubles performing in the short answer format of presidential debates.  Going into that debate as the under dog will help set the bar lower for his own performance.

Finally, and this is just my observation, the Obama campaign tends to be more effective in the underdog role.  The very nature of the Obama campaign theme is one of change from outside of DC; but when you are dominating the field, it’s a little more difficult to wear the mantle of scrappy outsider.  That and the Obama campaign itself can sometimes fall prey to complacency itself.  If he was able to overcome thirty point deficits against Clinton, I’m sure he will work hard enough and do what it takes to overcome a five point deficit from McCain.

But the important thing for supporters to understand here is that this is not really much of a big deal, and I’ve noticed that Obama and Biden are both doing exactly what they need to be doing on the stump; they are delivering specifics, they are hitting both substance and style and they are doing it in a way that connects with regular folks.  And they are showing no lack of aggressiveness against the McCain campaign.

Just relax; it’s about two months too soon to start whining that it’s all over.

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